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Confronting Unethical Conduct
The litany of scandals afflicting corporate America has raised many difficult questions for associations and other types of nonprofit organizations. Should executives tainted by scandal be asked to leave an association's board? Should the association or its leaders publicly condemn the behavior of some members of the profession or association? What can the association do to help rebuild the reputation of a profession or industry damaged by the actions of some of its members?
Too often associations choose the ostrich strategy--remaining mute because they fear "kicking a friend while he's down" or bucking the wishes of other association members who think any comment or action will bring heightened scrutiny to their own actions.
I am convinced that many associations have failed their professions and industries in times of scandal and crisis. Often, an association and its members will have already heard rumors or seen patterns of wrongdoing before a crisis becomes public. By choosing to do nothing thenor even after a scandal breaksassociations have failed their professions and industries. Leadership and quick action to shore up public trust is needed.
But what should an association do when one or more of its members is waist-deep in a public scandal? Here are a few suggestions:
These five guidelines are good rules for any era, but we don't live in normal times. American business and its professions are under acute scrutiny by the public and by all levels of government. Restoring trust now demands even more committed action.
This is a moment in which every association should renew its ethics efforts, a time in which it should foster an active and public discussion about best ethical practices for its profession or industry. Association meetings should be filled with serious debates about the implications of the current scandals for the professions represented, about how the new economy, globalization, and other developments have changed the structure and public responsibilities of particular industries. Every association ought to know how it intends to help restore public trust across all professions and industries.
Among other measures, I believe that every profession and industry should be conducting a kind of industry ethical analysis, which would highlight the inevitable ethical tensions it will encounter and would point the way toward best ethical practices as well as minimum standards.
Reprinted with permission from the January 2003 issue of Association
Management, copyright 2003, American Society of Association Executives,
Washington, D.C. In January of each year, the entire issue of ASSOCIATION
Kirk O. Hanson is the Executive Director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, and University Professor of Organizations & Society.
January 1, 2003
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